By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
Union Home Minister (UHM), Amit Shah, while campaigning for the Assembly Elections 2019 in Jharkhand on November 28, 2019, asserted that Naxalism [Left Wing Extremism, LWE] had been “buried 20-foot under the ground.”
Further, in a meeting of the LWE-affected States in New Delhi on August 26, 2019, the then Jharkhand Chief Minister, Raghubar Das, had asserted that, as a result of efforts of the State Police and ‘people friendly policies’ of the Government, there had been a 60 per cent decrease in incidents of Naxal-related violence in Jharkhand in 2019, as compared to 2015. Das also disclosed that, while the number of civilians killed had gone down to a third of the figure for 2015, the number of Maoists [Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist)] killed had doubled, as had the number of surrenders. The quantum of arms and ammunition recovered from LWE groups had risen by 33 per cent.
Contrary to these claims, according to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 64 persons, including 20 civilians, 13 Security Force (SF) personnel, and 31 Naxalites [Left Wing Extremists (LWEs)], were killed in 36 LWE-linked incidents in Jharkhand in 2019, while there were 53 such fatalities (17 civilians, 10 SF personnel, and 26 LWEs), in 30 such incidents, in 2018, demonstrating a surge of 20.75 per cent in fatalities, and an increase of 20 per cent in the number of such incidents. 2015 recorded 57 fatalities (15 civilians, five SF personnel and 37 LWEs) in 33 incidents.
The overall fatalities in 2018 were the second lowest (53) to be recorded in the State since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data. The lowest figure was recorded in 2000, at 36.
The surge in civilian fatalities, a key index of the security scenario of an area/region, is likewise worrisome. Civilian fatalities through 2019 stood at 20, an increase of 17.64 per cent compared to such fatalities through 2018, at 17. There were 15 civilian fatalities in 2015, the lowest in this category, though 2000 recorded a lower figure (13), for the period after March 6, when SATP started compiling the data relating to LWE violence.
Moreover, the SF category has also registered a spike in fatalities, with 13 personnel killed in 2019 as against 10 in 2018, and just five in 2015. A low of four SF fatalities was recorded in 2017, and just three after March 6 in 2000.
Though the number of LWEs killed increased by 19.23 per cent from 26 in 2018 to 31 in 2019, there was a dip in the kill ratio achieved by SFs, which dropped to 1:2.38 in 2019, from 1:2.6 in 2018. The overall kill ratio since March 6, 2000, favours the SFs, at 1:1.36, and the most favourable ratio was recorded in 2015, at 1:7.4.
Disturbingly, other parameters of violence in the State were also indicative of significant surge in 2019. According to partial data compiled by SATP, the number of major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) in the State increased from four (one initiated by Naxalites, three by SF personnel) in 2018, to nine (four initiated by Naxalites, one by SF personnel and four unspecified) in 2019. Further, the number of explosions carried out by the rebels increased from two in 2018 to 14 in 2019. Incidents of arson also increased from 14 in 2018 to 16 in 2019. The number of exchanges of fire between the SFs and LWEs increased from nine in 2018 to 11 in 2019.
Worryingly, even as violence spiked, SFs managed to arrest just 69 LWEs in 43 incidents of arrest in 2019, as compared to 157 LWEs in 70 such incidents in 2018, a decline of 56.05 per cent. Likewise, there was also a decline in the number of surrenders from 23 LWEs in 2018 to 11 LWEs in 2019, a drop of 52.17 per cent.
Broadly, however, LWE related incidents at large diminished from 165 in 2018 to 132 in 2019, in Jharkhand, conforming to the declining trend (781 incidents in 2018 to 672 in 2019) recorded across the country.
On October 26, 2019, State Director General of Police (DGP), Kamal Nayan Choubey, disclosed;
As per figures with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), 19 of 24 districts in Jharkhand are LWE-affected. Apart from the CPI (Maoist), there are at least 17 splinter outfits active in the State. Police say that a majority of members in the splinter outfits are nothing more than hired guns and thugs involved in extorting money from businessmen, smuggling opium and killing for sport.
Significantly, 19 Districts [Bokaro, Chatra, Dhanbad, Dumka, East Singhbhum, Garhwa, Giridih, Gumla, Hazaribagh, Khunti, Koderma, Latehar, Lohardaga, Palamu, Ramgarh, Ranchi, Simdega, Saraikela-Kharsawan, West Singhbhum] of Jharkhand were among the 90 Districts in 11 States listed as LWE-affected by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on February 5, 2019. Of these 19 Districts, 13 were earlier categorized as ‘worst LWE-affected Districts,’ in the list of 30 Most Affected LWE Districts from seven States across India, released by the UMHA on August 1, 2018.
Legislative Assembly Elections 2019, announced on November 1, 2019, were held from November 30, 2019, to December 20, 2019, [November 30, 2019 (Phase 1); December 7, 2019 (Phase 2); December 12, 2019 (Phase 3); December 16, 2019 (Phase 4); and December 20, 2019 (Phase 5)] to elect the 81 members of the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly. The results were declared on December 23, 2019. During this period, (November 1, 2019 – December 23, 2019) the State recorded at least one major incident on November 22, 2019, in which four SF personnel were killed and another two sustained injuries; three incidents of explosion were carried out by the rebels; and one incident of arson was also reported. During the corresponding period in 2018, (November 1– December 23), five incidents of arson were registered, while no fatalities or explosions were recorded.
On December 29, 2019, CPI-Maoist cadres blew up a community centre in Selda village in Khunti District of Jharkhand, hours before the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Hemant Soren’s oath-taking ceremony as the new Chief Minister of the State. Since December 29, 2019, two incidents of explosion had already been recorded from Khunti District. At least four incidents of arson have also been reported in the State, from Latehar, Palamu and Hazaribagh (data till January 5, 2020).
According to a November 22, 2019, report, at least, 137 companies of the Jharkhand Armed Police Forces were deployed, in addition to 166 companies of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), for the Jharkhand Assembly elections.
Meanwhile, in addition to several measures adopted in the past to strengthen the security apparatus in the State, the existing police-population ratio (policemen per hundred thousand population), of 174.96 increased to 177.82, but remained significantly lower than the sanctioned strength of 232.99, though it was much higher than the national average of 150.80, according to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2018.
Regrettably, Jharkhand continues to suffer other significant deficits in the strength and quality of the State Police Force, which constitutes the first line of defense against any kind of internal threat. According to BPR&D data, there was a vacancy of 18,931 personnel, (23.67 per cent of the sanctioned strength of 79,950), in the State. Of a total of 527 Police Stations in the State, 218 (41.36 per cent of the total) had no telephones and 27 Police Stations (5.12 per cent of the total) had no vehicles. Moreover, of a sanctioned strength of 149 apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State, 36 posts (24.16 per cent) remained vacant, considerably weakening executive direction of the Force.
While LWEs have been driven to the wall in most of their erstwhile areas of dominance, a surge has been engineered in Jharkhand in the absence of a coherent and sustained effort on part of the Government, and adequate measures to address the gross deficiencies in the enforcement apparatus across the State. A new dispensation, under the leadership of Chief Minister Hemant Soren, is now in charge. It can only be hoped that the State Government will abandon the falsehoods of its predecessor, focus on the realities of the ground and exert sustained pressure on the rebels, combined with aggressive developmental initiatives, to neutralize the residual capacities of the LWEs in Jharkhand.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management